Recognizing the value in sharing community reflections and encouraging viewers to make personal connections with works of art, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) has honored the Delaware Art Museum
with two Excellence in Label Writing Awards.
The award-winning labels were part of a series of community contributions written by African American leaders in greater Wilmington in response to photographs in the 2018 exhibition Danny Lyon: Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement. Melva Lawson Ware, a Delaware Historical Society trustee, and TAHIRA, a storyteller and musician based in Delaware, crafted the featured text. Their award-winning stories, as well as local, personal reflections and memories from other local leaders, were displayed as wall labels next to photographs in the Danny Lyon exhibition.
Their featured stories fused multiple perspectives and encouraged visitors to make connections with the civil rights history presented as part of the exhibition and the greater Wilmington 1968 project. This method of bringing in additional voices garnered a positive response from jurors judging the AAM's Museum Excellence in Label Writing Award. One AAM juror commented: "When people share their personal experiences with museums, they give us something of themselves to hold and present with as much care as we afford objects. This label does that."
The 2018 AAM competition received more than 240 labels from 98 exhibitions. Of these, jurors selected just 11 labels to recognize. Two were the Delaware Art Museum labels written by Ware and TAHIRA, and edited by Amelia Wiggins, the Museum's Manager of Gallery Learning and Interpretation.
"By inviting me to write a label for one of the photographs in the Danny Lyons' exhibit, the Delaware Art Museum allowed me to lend my voice to a piece capturing a pivotal part of history and a deeply personal and impactful experience in my life," says TAHIRA of her award-winning label. "This award is evidence of what can be achieved when a museum not only opens its doors to the community but also creates a space for the community's voice."
According to Wiggins, surveys show that Delaware Art Museum visitors increasingly value opportunities to learn from their fellow community members. Community-created content has become an interpretive strategy the Museum now regularly integrates. In 2019, the Museum is using this approach as it plans for a major reinstallation of the Museum's first floor galleries.
"The powerful personal memories that Melva Lawson Ware and TAHIRA shared opened up new insights into Lyon's photographs," says Wiggins. "These labels highlight the value of community members' uniquely personal interpretations of art and encourage visitors to learn from each other in creating their own meanings."
The Museum is grateful for all the community members who shared their voices through the planning of this exhibition and the greater Wilmington 1968 project, a community-wide reflection 50 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Through the labels and interpretation, exhibition programming, and conversations in the gallery, the community was able to experience this unique historical moment and join in thoughtful conversation.
Danny Lyon: Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement featured 57 black-and-white photographs from esteemed documentarian and photojournalist Danny Lyon. The images chronicled his time as a photographer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a national group of college students who joined together after the first sit-in by four African American college students at a North Carolina lunch counter. The exhibition was organized by art2art Circulating Exhibitions and sponsored by WSFS Bank, Bank of America, and DuPont.
Winning AAM Excellence in Label Writing Award
Segregated drinking fountains in the county courthouse in Albany, Georgia, 1962
Danny Lyon (born 1942)
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery © Danny Lyon and Magnum Photos, New York
Mame was the strongest, smartest most beautiful woman in my six-year-old world. On Saturdays she took me with her to the hair dresser and afterwards on a short stroll to Atlanta's municipal market. The market was alive with smells, and voices. Mame would treat me to a hot dog and a bag of warm roasted peanuts. Once while eating the peanuts, I needed water. Looking about, I spotted the fountain which had small wooded steps on one side so that children could climb up to fill tiny paper cups. Feeling pretty brave, I went to the fountain and started to climb the steps. Mame tackled me as I reached the top step and lifted me to a tiny bowl where she turned on the water spigot, and in a quivering voice announced that "this one is for us." Her voice frightened me--it was barely audible, awakening something for which I had no name.